New coach Mark Fox is officially on board.
He met his new Cal basketball team for the first time on Monday and he’s ready to begin sculpting those players into a team that can compete.
The Bears went 8-23 a year ago, but Fox said the page is being turned.
“Last year’s team had some struggles and it was a young team. But it was last year and last year’s over,” he said. “Today we start over and begin to work toward better days and a better promise.
“The current players will be the centerpiece of our team. We’re going to wrap our arms around these young people and build going forward.”
But just who will be part of that centerpiece by the time the 2019-20 campaign begins?
The Bears finished the 2018-19 campaign with 10 scholarship players on their roster and three signed high school prospects. That puts them at the maximum of 13 scholarship players.
But that total includes sophomore guard Darius McNeill, who announced last week he plans to transfer, and sophomore forward Justice Sueing, who did the same thing on Wednesday. And it includes seldom-used redshirt junior forward Roman Davis, who is ready to graduate and may not return.
Fox said McNeill’s fate is not sealed because of something he said in the emotion of last week. He plans to talk to McNeill and left open the door for his possible return.
Either way, point guard Paris Austin could be the only scholarship senior on the roster, depending on what Davis does, so Fox and his staff won’t have much wiggle room for recruiting their first year.
As a result, it’s possible the Bears would play the 2019-20 season with only 11 or 12 scholarship players, assuming there are no roster defections.
“What’s most important, if we add a player it’s someone who fits our mission and they can help us win,” Fox said. “But we obviously have a little bit of a limitation on scholarships this spring and next year, so we have to be very intentional who we add to the team.”
Fox conceded he doesn’t yet know much about the hand he’s been dealt. He doesn’t even know what style of play will best fit this team, although he made it clear the Bears will stress improvement on defense.
That’s an obvious starting point given the Bears ranked among the nation’s worst in key statistical categories last season: 305th in scoring defense (77.0 points per game allowed), 346th in rebound margin (minus-7.0) and 348th in field-goal percentage defense (48.9%).
So far, Fox only knows his personnel by those cold numbers.
“Until you get in the gym, you really don’y know what kind of group that you have,” he said. “We have a lot of work in front of us. We fully understand that.”
Here’s a breakdown of the roster he’s inheriting:
Returning Starters (3)
PARIS AUSTIN, 6-0, 185, senior PG
Key stats: 11.6 points, 4.3 assists, 44% FG, 28% on 3’s
Comment: Often too concerned with scoring at the expense of playmaking. And that’s not ideal, considering he shot just 23 percent on 3-pointers in Pac-12 play while his assists dipped to 3.8 per game.
MATT BRADLEY, 6-5, 220, sophomore SG
Key stats: 10.8 points, conference-leading 47.2% on 3’s
Comment: Probably needs to shoot a bit more from the 3-point arc. He made at least 50 percent of his threes in 18 games while the rest of Cal’s returning players made just 31 percent from deep. Has the strength to be a more effective inside scorer.
CONNOR VANOVER, 7-3, 225, sophomore C
Key stats: 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 35 blocks, 36% on 3’s
Comment: An intriguing young player who blossomed late in the season, averaging 12.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks while shooting 49% over the final 11 games. Had 24 points and six blocked shots in a late-season win at Stanford. Must continue to add strength.
Starters in Flux (2)
JUSTICE SUEING, 6-7, 215, junior F
Key stats: 14.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 61 assists, 52 steals
Comment: Cal’s best and most versatile player entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal on Wednesday, two days after Fox was introduced. He has 11 career games of 20 points or more and has started 61 games the past two seasons.
DARIUS McNEILL, 6-3, 182, junior SG
Key stats: 11.0 points, team-best 66 3-point baskets
Comment: Starter in 58 of 63 games his first two seasons, McNeill announced his plans to transfer days before Mark Fox was named coach. But Fox said Monday he intends to talk with McNeill before anything is cemented.
Key Reserves (4)
GRANT ANTICEVICH, 6-8, 240, junior F
Key stats: 2.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 11.6 minutes
Comment: Has a knack for making timely plays, but needs to be far more consistent. Improved his 3-point accuracy from 15 percent as a freshman to 36 percent last season.
JACOBI GORDON, 6-7, 215, sophomore F
Key stats: 2.4 points, 24 games
Comment: Was slow to come back fully after serious Achilles tendon injury as a high school senior. Bears hope for more next season from a high-level recruit.
JUHWAN HARRIS-DYSON, 6-5, 203, junior SG
Key stats: 3.5 points, 2.0 rebounds
Comment: Regressed after averaging 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds as a freshman, His shooting percentage dropped from 49 percent to 39 percent. Perhaps the team’s best athlete, he still hasn’t made a 3-pointer in two seasons: 0 for 21.
ANDRE KELLY, 6-8, 260, sophomore C
Key stats: 6.3 points, 3.7 rebounds
Comment: Was effective early as a freshman, averaging 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and shooting 66% through Cal’s non-conference schedule. That plummeted to 3.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 42% in Pac-12 play.
2019-20 Signees (3):
D.J. THORPE, 6-8, 230, C, Lake Travis HS, Austin, TX
Comment: The son of former NBA player Otis Thorpe tore ligaments in his left ankle in December and missed the remainder of his high school senior season. Thorpe and both of his fellow signees were rated as three-star prospects by 247Sports.
JOEL BROWN, 6-2 160, PG, Brewster Academy, Wolfboro, NH
Comment: Native of Toronto, Canada scored on a driving layup with less than 1 second left to propel Brewster into the semifinals of the national prep school championships. Brewster went on to win the title for the sixth time since 2010.
CHARLES SMITH IV, 6-5, 180, SG, Wheeler HS, Marietta, GA
Comment: Played his senior season at Wheeler High, the same school that produced Cal star Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Jaylen Brown. Smith’s father, Charles III, played basketball at Air Force.